New York, NY – Today NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm and Fred T. Korematsu Institute Executive Director Karen Korematsu gathered on the steps of City Hall with Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo, New York Day of Remembrance Committee Co-chair Michael Ishii, Japanese American Citizens League New York Chapter Co-President George Hirose, Long-time activist Suki Terada Ports, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families Director of Programs Mitchel Wu, Bridging Cultures Group Inc. Founder & CEO Debbie Almontaser and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) Legal Director Albert Cahn to celebrate the first annual New York City Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.
In 2015, Dromm introduced Resolution 792 to recognize January 30 as Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in honor of the late civil rights activist who objected to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The effort received widespread support from many individuals and organizations. After being voted out of the Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations committee, the entire Council unanimously passed Resolution 792 on December 19, 2017.
Fred Korematsu refused to comply with Civilian Exclusion Order 34, based on the federal Executive Order 9066, which imposed strict curfew regulations and resulted in the forcible removal of 120,000 Japanese Americans from their communities to be incarcerated indefinitely in American concentration camps during World War II. He was arrested and convicted, but fought back because he believed the conviction went against the basic freedoms guaranteed to him by the U.S. Constitution.
Korematsu and a handful of his fellow patriots stood up not just for themselves but for the preservation of our Constitution, during the racist and xenophobic hysteria that was unfortunately part of our country’s response to the war. At that time, overwhelming fear stoked by the United States government allowed the darkest elements of our society to have free reign. The rule of law and respect for basic human rights became unfortunate casualties in the rush to demonize, segregate, and then persecute Japanese Americans. While fighting fascism overseas, our government uprooted families here, ruined livelihoods, and tore communities apart. Only decades later did the United States recognize the grave injustice perpetrated against its own people.
“In these times of Muslim bans, attacks on immigrants and refugees, and neo-Nazi rallies encouraged by the Trump administration’s hateful rhetoric, it has become increasingly important to reiterate the lessons of history,” said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Elmhurst, Jackson Heights), who represents one of the most diverse districts in NYC. “Fred Korematsu’s courage to take a stand against injustice is an inspiration to us all. By co-founding Korematsu Day in NYC, I hope to educate our youth on Korematsu and all that he did to make our nation a better place. I thank Speaker Johnson, my colleagues in the Council and the many advocates who came together to support this important effort. May the sins of our forefathers never again be repeated.”
Karen Korematsu, Founder and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center said, “My profound thanks to Councilman Dromm and the New York City Council for establishing Fred Korematsu Day Of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on January 30, in perpetuity for New York City and, as my father said, for ‘Standing Up for What is Right.’”
“Fred Korematsu was a visionary who always tried to stand up for what was right. His activism and commitment to advancing civil rights were crucial to starting important conversations about race, inclusion, and the history of Asian Americans in our country, imparting deep wisdom that we continue to carry with us,” said NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “This year, on what would be his 99th birthday, we establish January 30th as Fred T. Korematsu Day in order to honor his dream of a more equal and just society.”
“I am so proud to join my Council colleagues as we celebrate the life and leadership of Fred T. Korematsu, the late civil rights activist who spoke truth to power and valiantly challenged the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, ” said NYC Council Member Margaret Chin (D-Lower Manhattan). “Today, in spite of the many challenges brought on by the current political climate, Korematsu’s legacy endures as young Asian Americans across the country are rising up to protect our civil rights and resist the Trump Administration’s cruel endorsement of division and hate. Thank you to Council Member Dromm and advocates across our City for your efforts to officially establish January 30th as Fred T. Korematsu Day in New York City, and encourage more New Yorkers to learn about the outstanding service and contributions of this real life hero.”
“The modern world has become increasingly diverse so that people of different races, colors, and creeds cross paths more frequently than ever before,” said NYC Council Member Peter Koo (D-Flushing). “The modern world has become increasingly diverse so that people of different races, colors, and creeds cross paths more frequently than ever before. We must always remember our country’s multiculturalism and remain vigilant against veiled attempts to marginalize, segregate, and to pit one group against another. In naming Fred T. Korematsu Day, we are reminded of the conviction and fighting spirit of America that was embodied in one man. We are also reminded that although times have changed, we still have a long way to go before America can truly become the beacon of ‘liberty and justice for all’ that it strives to be. We thank Mr. Korematsu for his bravery, and we commit to continuing his fight to ensure the injustices that befell the Japanese people does not happen again.”
“We call on citizens and communities across our great country to champion the ideals of Fred Korematsu,” said Michael Ishii, Co-chair of the New York Day of Remembrance Committee. “Today, we stand with every neighbor and fellow human being targeted in a national resurgence of bigotry and trampling of civil liberties. Know that Japanese Americans are standing with you. In the words of our community, ‘Never Again’ to registries, forced removal and imprisonment or the dismantling of civil liberties based on race, identity, immigration status or creed.”
“Japanese Americans are the only group in the United States to have been mass-incarcerated and we are painfully aware that racial profiling and bigotry can only result in the destruction of many innocent lives,” said George Hirose, Co-President of the Japanese American Citizens League New York Chapter. “It is our moral duty to tell our story so that society and our government should not forget, and not repeat the grave mistakes of the past.”
“The Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF) is extremely excited to see January 31st be recognized in New York City as Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution,” said Mitchel Wu, Director of Programs for the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families (CACF). “We want to thank Council Member Daniel Dromm for sponsoring this resolution. This day holds deeper and greater relevance to so many of our community members. His legacy is more than a commemoration of a American civil rights leader. CACF’s Asian American Student Advocacy Project (ASAP), high school youth leaders started working three years ago and advocated by sharing experiences of how Asian Pacific American youth face victimization in public schools, experience loss of identity, and feelings of exclusion. Fred T. Korematsu Day is an inspiration for New Yorkers to be a stronger diverse community.”
“The establishment of this day is not just about the accomplishments or actions of one man, but is a highly symbolic acknowledgement of how racially and religiously motivated policies can infringe on our basic civil and human rights, which are morally wrong,” said Dr. Debbie Almontaser, Founder and CEO of Bridging Cultures Group, Inc. “Fred T. Korematsu courageously fought the US Government in the Supreme Court for the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WW2. His courage, gives Muslim Americans and I the courage to stand up the Travel Ban created to target Muslim majority countries.”
Albert Fox Cahn, Legal Director of CAIR-NY, said, “Today we honor Fred T. Korematsu’s fight for civil rights, pledging that we will never forget this dark chapter in American history or allow its repetition.”
“The Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) is proud to celebrate the inaugural Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on this 30th day of January with its friends and allies,” said Yang Chen, Executive Director of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. “AABANY keeps alive the legacy of Fred T. Korematsu and other civil rights heroes like him through its trial reenactments project, which for the past 11 years has brought to life famous legal cases involving Asian Americans. The contributions made by Asian Americans to the legal, social and political history of the United States have been largely forgotten or ignored. Yet these cases teach current and future generations important lessons about the need to speak up and stand up for what is right—values that Fred T. Korematsu embodied through his activism. In the spirit of Korematsu Day, let us all speak up and stand up for what is right. Let us all learn the lessons of history so that we may never again repeat the same mistakes.”